A mistaken identity

She had the same wispy, gray hair and hesitant smile that I remembered. I was out for a walk a few weeks ago and walked by a house where an old lady, bundled in a jacket, rocked back and forth in a rocking chair on her porch. I could hear her humming and old religious song to herself as she watched passersby on the street.

I waved hello to her and kept walking, realizing immediately that she wasn’t the same lady I thought she was. Her pulled-back hair reminded me of another woman I had met thirty years ago when I worked as a reporter.

Working late

The newspaper where I worked decided to run a Day in the Life series, sending out the reporters and staff to document twenty-four hours in the life of the small community we covered. It was a nice idea as long as you didn’t get stuck with the midnight to early morning shift. 

My job was to cover part of the late shift at a local farm machinery shop; tackle security for a medical manufacturing facility; move onto a local mom and pop nursing facility for elderly residents; and then finally make a final stop at the pop FM radio station to sit with the morning DJ and his crew. I would hit all four spots and then work my normal day. I had set things up the week before with the foreman at the machinery shop and the head of the security for the medical provider and, when they day we had selected to kick off the Day in the Life came, everything went as expected. I followed the workers around and wrote what I saw.

I had set things up with the head nurse at the nursing home and figured I’d spend most of my time chatting with the on-call nurse. I wasn’t sure what I’d write about but knew something would come. I forget what exactly happened, either the nurse was busy or not all that interesting, but I ended up spending much of my time at the nursing home talking with one of the residents, an old lady who had been at the home for the past five years.

Leaving a last impression

The hour was late, but I remember she was sitting in a dimly lit community room where a TV played in the background. She looked up occasionally, but mainly sat with her hands in her lap looking out the window as the night changed from pitch black to a grayish dawn. If you looked closely out the window, you could see several ducklings playing in a small stream. 

The woman told me that she spent much of her life on farms and had gotten used to getting up early to milk the cows and getting things ready for a new day. All these years later, she tried to sleep until a normal waking hour, but found that she was usually wide awake come 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.

On this day, though, she had other things on her mind.

We had been careful in which day we chose for the Day in the Life, selecting one that worked for the most number of staff members. Our editor must have had some inside information in making the choice. We ended up starting the series the same day the United States and coalition forces, part of Operation Desert Storm, started bombing Iraq, in retaliation for its invasion of Kuwait. News of the bombings was splattered across the television.

Of course, the woman wanted to know if I had seen the coverage. She asked if I was worried. I said I had a brother and several friends in the Armed Forces but hadn’t heard from them. She told me that her brother had seen action in Vietnam and lost his best friend and a few of his buddies from boot camp in the war. The lady paused for a few minutes – long enough that I considered trying to find the on-call nurse. I worried that I had upset the woman.

Something to believe in

Finally, she broke the silence, put her hands over mine, over my notebook, and said, that her life had had its share of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, but the one thing she had learned was that you have to live one day a time. She told me to relax and trust that God was in control. 

We talked some more before she dozed off in front of the TV and I had to move onto my next destination, the radio station. When I came across the lady on my walk the other day, I was immediately taken back to my long ago reporting assignment. I never saw the woman in the nursing home again, but her words come back to me when I’m facing a tough challenge.

Relax and believe and take it one day at a time.

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